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Tonight on BBC Four, The Children Who Built Victorian Britain

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BBC Wales History BBC Wales History | 12:41 UK time, Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Tonight on BBC Four at 9pm is The Children Who Built Victorian Britain. This moving and unsettling documentary looks at the Industrial Revolution through the eyes of working children.

It is presented by Jane Humphries, a fellow of All Soul Souls College, a Professor of Economic History at Oxford University and the author of Childhood And Child Labour In The British Industrial Revolution.

The documentary uses biographies, letters, diaries and documents of hundreds of working children to tell the story of the Industrial Revolution from their perspective.

Professor Jane Humphries

Professor Jane Humphries

Professor Humphries also reveals in the documentary how the social conditions created a population boom amongst the poor - one which was exploited by the early industrialists. New factories were built in sparsely populated areas and their workforce was provided through the trafficking of orphans from the cities.

These children, aged eight and sometimes younger, were handed over by the Parish authorities and signed up to work for free until they reached adulthood. Without this available slave labour many businesses would never have got off the ground.

The documentary, produced by BBC Cymru Wales, uses animation created by artists from the BBC Wales graphics department and by current and former students of the Newport Animation School.

Animation by Helen Dallat

Animator: Helen Dallat, student, International Film School Wales

Animation by Dave Freeman

Animator: Dave Freeman BBC Cymru Wales Graphic Design

Animation by Sinead Oram

Animation: Sinead Oram, International Film School, Wales International Film School, Wales

You can find out more about the programme and watch clips of the animations on The Children Who Built Victorian Britain programme page.

The Children Who Built Victorian Britian, Tuesday 1 February, 9pm, BBC Four.


  • Comment number 1.

    An excellent programme - but the BBC appears to have done even more than it usually does to obliterate the presenter's voice with unnecessary and intrusive music.

    I have pointed out repeatedly to the BBC that its own producer guidelines rule against such obtrusive music, but it appears that BBC producers do not have to conform to their own "house rules" !


  • Comment number 2.

    Having taught about the history of these issues for a number of years, I was dismayed to find that your programme omitted to mention the colossal influence of the Evangelical Christian faith in bringing about an end to the mistreatment of children.
    No mention of Sadler's Methodist motivation. No mention of Shaftesbury and his tireless and successful campaigning in Christ's Name. No mention of Ragged Schools.
    I wonder if Professor Humphries has ever investigated why the campaigners cared and persisted in caring. My conclusion is that their philanthropy sprang from their salvific experience with Jesus - uncomfortable as that thought might be to a post-modern mind.

  • Comment number 3.

    At my school, we learned so little about history, real history. It is a real eye opener to see programmes like this where history digs below the surface and shows the true history of people.
    Britain could have been built with paid adults to work but this was the real Britain which Q.Victoria was aware of but ignored.

    It was a life long nightmare for ordinary people ofVictorian Britain. Meanwhile, the middle-class families were gathering their wealth from overseas and the ruling classes lived off the hard work and slave labour of this amazing heroes.
    A statue should have been built to remember them and not political statues of people who caused this grief.

  • Comment number 4.

    Much as I enjoyed the programme it did have some major faults
    1. The music was too loud, a constant source of annoyance in programmes
    2. Professor Jane Humphries was too loud. She shouted all her PTC’s and looked stiff and wooden. Her delivery off camera was fine though.
    3. Her contestant change of bizarre clothing distracted from what she was saying. There were more outfits than a Lady Gaga concert.
    4. Putting fake film scratches on the animation is really annoying and is a pointless exercise. You are trying to make new video animation look like Victorian film…why?

  • Comment number 5.

    I notice there were extracts from the diary of Joseph Arch from Barford Worcestershire... Worcestershire????
    Now I live in Barford and Joseph Arch is a local hero and I'm fairly certain I'm in Warwickshire.
    Trouble is it leaves one wondering about the accuracy of other 'facts'


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